Super Splurges Over $500
Andreas Pichler has been making guitars since he was 14,
and the 26-year-old Austrian luthier currently manufacturers his bold designs (which also include the Andreas Infeld guitar and Shark bass) in the Southern village of Dollach. The uniquely shaped Shark ($2,100 retail) is an ergonomic wonder with a curvaceous mahogany body finished in a softly textured, lacquer-based coating that feels a bit like deerskin. The 25.59"-scale maple bolt-on neck has a thick, C-shape profile, and it sports a swooping, shark-fin inspired headstock with chrome Gotoh tuners. The curvy, chrome-plated loop surrounding the Wilkinson TSVG fixed bridge is formed to match the arc of the top, and is held in place with stainless hex screws. Two Harry H¨ussel exposed-coil pickups feed a 5-way switch that provides a variety of humbucker and split-coil options. To help maintain a clean appearance, the master Volume and Tone controls are partially recessed into the body.
Though one of the Shark’s drawbacks is that you can’t lean it against an amp or anything else without it tumbling over, the curvy shape feels incredibly comfy. Every surface of this 7.1 lb guitar is rounded, and the neck-to-body joint is one of the most seamless I’ve felt on a bolt-on design. Courtesy of its 22 jumbo frets, medium-low action, and Infeld TB 110 strings, the Shark has an inviting playing feel. It delivers a good balance of girth and zing, and is able to elicit crisp, detailed clean sounds or fat, bluesy distorted tones with a flick of the 5-way selector. Some of the tones reminded me of my PRS CE 22 (which has a rotary pickup selector), though the Shark’s maple fretboard and longer scale make it a little brighter sounding overall. A few players found the red line running along the fretboard under the B string a bit distracting, but that’s a minor quibble on this otherwise well-conceived, cutting-edge guitar. —Art Thompson
Designed and built in the Netherlands,
the Koch Twintone ($2,030 retail/$1,525 street, footswitch included) is a two-channel, 1x12 combo with some hip and unusual features. Powered by a pair of Chinese-made Ruby EL34Bs and four 12AX7s, this Euro tone machine delivers 50 watts to its Italian-made Koch ceramic-magnet speaker. Details include a Baltic birch cab, ultra-smooth pots, a well-designed PC-board circuit, and proprietary transformers.
The amp’s specially designed inputs (Normal and Bright Clean) are optimized for single-coils and high-output humbuckers. There’s also a rear-panel Rhythm Volume (which works as a secondary footswitchable volume on both channels), a power soak, and speaker-simulating recording outputs.
The superb sounding Twintone delivers warm, firm, and complex clean textures and aggressive, dynamic overdrive. Though capable of happening tones with the leanest-sounding single-coils or the fattest humbuckers, the Twintone sounded particularly cool with a PRS CE 24—which provided the most synergistic combination of detail, richness, and range of expression (no wonder Paul Smith is such a fan of Koch amps). Armed with enough power and features for just about any gig, this sonic chameleon is also compact and flexible enough to make an ideal practice or studio amp. —Terry Buddingh
Ovation Adamas Slot Head
Ovation has always produced a special breed of acoustic guitars,
and the U.S.-made Adamas Slot Head ($2,200 retail, case included) is a 12-fret maverick that features a woven carbon-fiber top adorned with gold speckles—a cosmetic touch that makes this already earthy-looking guitar appear a bit like it’s covered with sand. Mother-of-pearl inlays grace the mahogany neck’s ebony fretboard, and the gold Schaller tuners fitted to the open headstock have nicely contrasting ebony buttons.
While Ovation is synonymous with acoustic-electric guitars, the Slot Head is strictly acoustic. In fact, it’s the only non-electric model in the line. That hardly matters, though, as tone explodes out of the Slot Head’s 22 soundholes. The Slot’s low end is also dramatically extended—strumming an open E chord yields such a deep-bodied tone, it’s as if a bass-boost button were activated. The Slot Head represents the pinnacle of Ovation’s acoustic guitar-making technology, and its deep-bowl body, “quintad”-style spruce bracing, and uncommon soundholes project tones with impressive volume and girth. —Jimmy Leslie
Groovy Gear Under $500
Hughes & Kettner
Edition Blue 30-R Hughes &Kettner probably isn’t a manufacturer you’d name if someone asked you for a list of budget amps,
which is why the Edition Blue 30-R ($299 retail/$209 street) is a mind blower. For ever-so-slightly more than 200 bucks, you get 30 watts of solid-state power, two channels (Clean and Lead), a 10" Jensen speaker (in a closed-back cabinet with a bottom vent), 3-band EQ, an effects loop, spring reverb, a CD input, a footswitch jack, and a headphone output. In addition, this baby weighs just 18 lbs, and its top panel is illuminated in a stunning blue hue.
For small gigs and rehearsals, this amp is tough to beat. It sounds good with all types of guitars, and it’s loud enough to blare over any drummer who’s not channeling John Bonham. The Clean channel stays clean up to a point, and when it starts fraying, you get a musical overdrive.
The Lead channel offers very modern-sounding saturation with a nice thump. Notes sustain for days, and you can dial in everything from an oozing creamy tone to buzzy stabs. Vintage-tone disciples won’t dig the slight high-end cackle audible in vastly distorted timbres, but most off-putting sounds can be tamed by tweaking the 30-R’s very aggressive tone controls. For an economical amp, the 30-R’s pro-styled looks won’t embarrass you, and its techy, Germanic voicing will add some high-midrange attitude to your riffs. This is one kick-ass bargain. —Michael Molenda
Carl Martin Two Faze
The first commercially available stompbox phaser was introduced in 1970 by electronics wizard Tom Oberheim as the Maestro PS-1.
The PS-1 sported a power switch and three rocker switches labeled Slow Phase, Medium Phase, and Fast Phase. Now considered a classic, the PS-1 was used on countless early-’70s recordings.
The Carl Martin Two Faze ($320 retail/$209 street) purports to recreate the basic sound of the PS-1, while updating the performance specs, and offering what amounts to two PS-1s in a single pedal. Like the original, the effect is either off or on—with no control over depth or other parameters—but instead of three speed switches, you get two continuously variable controls that range from slow to fast (as well as LEDs that flash to indicate speed). One footswitch engages the effect, and another selects which phaser is active.
The Two Faze does indeed sound an awful lot like the vintage Maestro pedal, producing thick and vibey phase textures that range from very slow and swishy to gurgling to ultra-fast. Like all Carl Martin pedals, the Two Faze is handwired in Denmark using very high-quality components, so its operation is super-quiet, and there are no pops or clicks when switching. Sound quality is excellent, and the Two Faze gives you two classic phasers for less than you’d pay for a single original PS-1. Groovy! —Barry Cleveland
The Alesis GuitarFX ($139 retail/$70 street),
the revived company’s new multi-effect floor processor, sports 80 rewritable patches, an auto-chromatic tuner, 11 amp sounds, three cabinet simulations, and a cowabunga assortment of digital effects. The GuitarFX also allows you to plug in an external controller for real-time control.
Programming the GuitarFX is easy, once you get past the less-than-intuitive manner that Alesis uses to identify their effects (such as “H” for phase). The GuitarFX sports better-than-decent amp sounds, and I dialed in tones that ran the gamut from the cleanest of clean to gnarly distortions. Excessive hiss was an issue for some amp sounds, however.
The modulation effects offered everything from slight sweetening to crazy-ass swoops, sweeps, and blips, and the reverbs and delays yielded tasty spaciousness (my fave was the Tape Delay). If you’re looking for a ton of digital whiz-bang for a paltry amount of cash, the GuitarFX is a very sweet deal. - Darrin Fox
Badass Bargains Under $50
Pickboy Pos-A-Grip picks
I was walking the floor at the Summer NAMM show,
when I came upon a fellow purveying picks, straps, and other accessories. He offered me a handful of sample picks unlike any I’d seen before—and I’ve seen a few—which I quickly pocketed before moving on to the next booth. While experimenting with them later, I found one pick in particular to be right up my alley: the black Pickboy Pos-A-Grip Medium. It had just the right degree of stiffness for strumming and playing single notes, the finish had a smoothness that produced a fat and warm sound against both acoustic and electric strings, and—best of all—it had perforations that made it easy to hold on to, even when my fingers perspired. I was hooked.
Pos-A-Grip picks (75&ent; retail) come in various styles and colors. The review picks included two reds (Medium 0.70 and Heavy 1.0) and two blacks (Medium 0.75 and Heavy 1.0), along with a smaller black Jazz 1.50. The reds are not only perforated, they also have small indentations, making them even more grip-positive. The blacks are the same shape and size, but have a slightly smoother and more flexible overall feel. The Jazz Pos-A-Grip is very heavy, with zero flexibility. In terms of their being easy to hold on to—which is primarily what distinguishes the Pos-A-Grips from other picks—they are all equally successful, and gauge is simply a matter of taste. But for my money, the black Medium (0.75) stands apart as truly exceptional for my tastes. Suffice it to say that I acquired an entire bag of them. —Barry Cleveland
Dunlop Stainless Steel slide
When you think about it, stainless steel is an ideal material for a slide. It’s relatively lightweight, and,
as an alloy, it’s more resistant to corrosion than brass or even chrome-plated steel. Dunlop’s new Stainless Steel Slide ($24 retail, available in small and large) offers a heft that’s similar to medium-thickness glass, while eliciting more brightness and cutting power from your strings. The Stainless feels supremely maneuverable. It glides on the strings with uncanny ease, and it doesn’t grind strings against the frets as easily as some heavy brass and ceramic slides do (a welcome thing for guitars with lower-than-ideal action for slide). The Stainless Steel even works great on stainless-steel strings, which is surprising considering that stainless alloys have a reputation for feeling somewhat gritty when rubbed against each other. Dunlop has also recently begun treating the inside surfaces of the Stainless with a special non-slip coating for better grip, which should ensure that this slide stays put on even the heaviest-sweatin’ bottleneckers. —Art Thompson
Kepur 1.Zero Symbol Series straps
Few people would dare admit this, but one reason to buy a Hummer is knowing you could crush other cars without even risking a bruise.
Face it—there’s a certain glory in indulging an appetite for destruction from a position of invincibility.
How excellent, then, that your typical aggro rock guitarist can viciously abuse a Kepur 1.Zero Symbol strap ($24 retail/$19 street) without having to consider a replacement. Even the Hulk couldn’t shred these straps, and, in fact, I’d actually pay to see The Hulk II if I could watch the big guy explode into a spazz fit while attempting to make confetti out of one.
The 1.Zeros are 2" wide and adjust to 6' in length. As the Biothane material won’t stretch or retain moisture, the strap holes always clench your guitar’s strap knobs in a death grip—virtually eliminating the need for locking devices. The straps feel comfy and secure on your shoulder, although, to your fingertips, the Biothane feels like a freshly polished slug.
I did my best to embarrass this company. I hooked the strap to an iron fence, affixed the other end to a car bumper, and drove forward at about 2 mph. There was some stretching, but I feared I’d pop my bumper before the strap failed. I tried to wrench open the strap hole. I defaced it, but I didn’t break it. I poured beer, hot coffee, coke, and cranberry juice over the strap, and I left the thing in a bucket of water overnight. No discernible damage. But while the 1.Zero beat me, I haven’t had so much fun trying to break something in years. And, oh yeah, it really is a pretty cool guitar strap. —Michael Molenda